Partner Abuse in Kink Communities

Kink is consensual, partner abuse is not.

What is Kink?

Kink is an umbrella term for a group of behaviors and/or sexualities that involve negotiated and consensual erotic roleplaying in which participants use physical sensation, emotional control, and/or psychological drama to explore and experience fantasies. In kink relationships the negotiated giving and receiving of control is referred to as power exchange and can take the form of physical, psychological, sexual, and/or financial control.

Interest in kink crosses race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, educational level, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In the United States there are over 500 educational and social organizations that exist for kink/Leather/Fetish practitioners.

Kink is:

  • Always consensual.
  • Done with respect for limits.
  • Enjoyed by all partners.
  • Fun, erotic, and loving.
  • Done with an understanding of trust.
  • Never done with the intent to harm.

What is Consent?

Consent is the active and ongoing voluntary* permission given to engage in an activity in which all people involved have mutual understanding of the explicit behaviors to be engaged in and the necessary information to give, deny, or change permission at any moment.

*Voluntary – of one’s own free will; without the presence of coercion, pressure, substances, & exploitation of power.

It is not consent if:

  • You did not expressly give consent.
  • You are afraid to say no.
  • You say yes to avoid conflict.
  • You say yes to avoid consequences (e.g. a fight, losing a job, losing your home, being outed).


Common Terms:

What is Partner Abuse?

Partner abuse is a systemic pattern of behaviors where one person non-consensually uses power to try to control the thoughts, beliefs, body, and/or spirit of a partner.

You may be experiencing partner abuse if:

  • You cannot withdraw consent and stop what’s happening at any time.
  • You cannot express limits and needs without being ridiculed, criticized, or being coerced into changing them.
  • Your partner threatens to out you for being into kink.
  • You do not feel as though kink play enhances your relationship.
  • You cannot refuse to do illegal activities.
  • You are confused about when a scene begins or ends.
  • You are afraid of your partner outside negotiated scenes.
  • Your partner tells you that they have the right to control your behavior by virtue of gender, income, or other external factors.
  • Your partner prevents you from interacting in the kink community or learning more about kink.
  • You feel trapped in a specific role (i.e. submissive or dominant).
  • Your partner ignores your safewords or tries to convince you not to use them.
  • Your partner does not respect your safer sex practices.
  • You do not feel free to express your personal beliefs, religion, sexual preference, gender identity, or interest in kink without fear of ridicule.
  • Your partner forces/prohibits monogamy or non-monogamy.

Kink is consensual, partner abuse is not.

The most basic difference between kink and abuse is consent. Just because you consent to play does not mean you consent to everything. You have the right to set limits. 

Abusive partners may use a number of ways to control their partner, none of which are acceptable in the context of a consensual and negotiated kink relationship. Kink is consensual, partner abuse is not.

For more information about kink, request our materials and request a training. You can also call our 24-hour free and confidential hotline for support. 800-832-1901

The Network/La Red does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, genetic information, age, membership in an employee organization, retaliation, parental status, military service, or other non-merit factor.

This portion of the webpage was written by Sabrina Santiago, MSW. Portions of this webpage were adapted from:

  1. The “BDSM vs. Abuse Policy Statement” created at the Leather Leadership Conference in 1998.
  2. “When Someone You Love is Kinky” by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt, Greenery Press 2000.
  3. “S/M is Not Abuse”– Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO).
  4. “What is S/M?” by Susan Wright and Charles Moser,